Pistons Push Magic To The Brink

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Even on a night when the Detroit Pistons didn't play their best, they were good enough to beat the Orlando Magic — again.

Tayshaun Prince scored 23 points, Chauncey Billups added 21 and the Pistons defeated Orlando 93-77 Thursday night to take a 3-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.

The victory ended a postseason trend for the Pistons — they had lost their last six Game 3s when leading 2-0 — and left them one victory from advancing to the second round.

Game 4 is Saturday in Orlando.

Detroit gave the Magic plenty of chances in this one. The Pistons trailed early, let Orlando be physical and seemingly got flustered as they were whistled for three technical fouls. Leading scorer Richard Hamilton even had an off night, scoring 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.

But Detroit made up for it with solid outside shooting from Prince, Billups and Rasheed Wallace. They also got 15 points and seven rebounds from Chris Webber.

The long-range shooting was the difference, though. The Pistons finished 8-of-13 from behind the arc. Wallace, who had 15 points, was 3-for-3. Prince was 3-for-5, and Billups was 2-for-3.

Jameer Nelson, a defensive liability at times in the first two games, led the Magic with 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Dwight Howard, who lacked energy in Game 2 because of a stomach illness, had 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Grant Hill and Hedo Turkoglu, the two who carried Orlando in the first two games, struggled at home. They were a combined 6-of-22 from the field.

Another key in the game — aside from the 3-pointers — was Detroit's strong finishes to the first three quarters. The Pistons scored the final six points of the first, tying the game at 23. They made two baskets in the closing seconds before halftime. And Prince hit a 3 on the last possession of the third.

The biggest one may have come just before halftime. Orlando looked like it would keep it close heading into the locker room, maybe even hold a lead.

But Prince hit a 20-footer with 2.3 seconds remaining and the shot clock winding down — his second jumper in the final 45 seconds.

"He's the one guy on our team that people don't talk about," Saunders said. "He's kind of a silent assassin."

Prince then stole an errant inbound pass from Hedo Turkoglu and fed Billups, who hit a falling-down 3 just before the final buzzer.

Those two shots turned a one-point game into a 48-42 advantage for Detroit.

"It was disappointing the way we finished both of the first two quarters," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "We had essentially tie games or two-point games. It was unnecessary."

It also was disheartening for a young Orlando team making its first trip to the postseason in four years.

"It's real tough when you turn the ball over and they hit a 3," Nelson said. "Things happen in the course of the basketball game. We talked about it at halftime. We talked about moving on to the next play. It was miscommunication."

The Magic, who have lost all seven meetings with Detroit this season, vowed to be more aggressive in Game 3. They were, and it worked early.

Howard, who lacked energy in Game 2 because of a stomach illness, set the tone with three dunks in the first quarter. His teammates drove more often. And the Magic played better and more physical defense all around.

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